Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Real Shakespeare

When I read about Contested Will:  Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro, on the NYT Notable Books List, I was interested.  I knew that I had read somewhere that Shakespeare may have been Queen Elizabeth's illegitimate son, and I wanted to uncover the real story.  Shapiro was ready for me, and prepared to dispel my every misconception.  In fact, I was still in the Prologue, when he reminded me, accurately, that I had read about the Queen Elizabeth connection in the children's mystery, Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach. 

Shapiro starts off by telling the reader that he believes that Shakespeare's works were written by (gasp!) William Shakespeare.  He is open to and embracing of the idea that Shakespeare may have collaborated with others on certain pieces, but is mystified by the historians and celebrities who have argued for centuries that someone else must have been the author.  A strange thing about the Shakespeare controversy is the vast array of celebrities who have felt the need to weigh in on the issue. From Helen Keller to Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud to Charlie Chaplin to Malcolm X, everyone has an opinion.

Apparently, much of the controversy about whether or not William Shakespeare could have been a great playwright stems from his will, where he apparently didn't leave his books to anyone, and is said to have spelled his name wrong in one signature.  His detractors say that this helps to prove that the person named Shakespeare was illiterate, and could not have written the plays.  There are two candidates who the detractors put forward as the most likely true authors, and Shapiro addresses the likelihood of each being the "real" Shakespeare, dismissing them with persuasive authority.

If you are looking for juicy 17th century gossip, Contested Will is probably not going to hold your attention.  However if you are really interested in the authorship controversy, Shapiro is very convincing.

Next up:  Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Almost done listening to:  Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon 

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